Friday, March 06, 2015

Unexpectedly Goodd

Over a year ago I watched the new film interpretation of the British comic book JUDGE DREDD. The first attempt to make it to the screen was a truly awful movie starring Sylvester Stallone, an actor completely unsuited to portraying the character.

For those of you unfamiliar with the comic book, DREDD is set in a particularly dark dystopia. Its world is the 22nd Century and humanity has been reduced to living exclusively in densely packed urban centers, as the rest of the planet has been largely ruined. To expedite control of the masses, society has empowered "Judges" in place of police officers and courts. These men can arrest, charge, sentence, and punish anyone they encounter who break laws. This generally includes spontaneous execution, as the death penalty has been applied for a dizzying array of offenses.

The character and series was created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra. Strangely, it appeals to both those on the left who fear right wing authoritarianism, and those on the right who wish to embrace such ideas. It's a literary and commercial stroke of genius on the part of the creators.

The first JUDGE DREDD movie is pretty much a wreck of a film. Everything about it is wrong and it failed spectacularly both critically and financially. Deservedly so. I won't speak of it in detail any more.

But in 2012 a new movie was produced and released: DREDD. I'm surprised it was able to get to the screen because the first film had been such a failure. But the ideas and the thrust of the stories are so well executed that it found enough backers to ensure production.

The movie stars Karl Urban who does a really great job of portraying the cold and impersonal Judge Dredd. He goes about his job implacably and is among the best at what he does, exhibiting no pity for those who break the law, and having little patience with the citizens he encounters. This coldness and suspicion even bleeds over to his opinions toward trainee, Judge Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby.

The plot features Dredd arriving at one of the crime-infested superstructures in the city to dispense justice. But the mission is a set-up to assassinate him and cement the power and influence of drug kingpin Ma-Ma played with delicious monstrosity by Lena Heady . Heady's beauty manages to peek in through the cracks in her performance as a physically rotten but brilliant creep of a criminal.

DREDD delivers a fine and thoughtful script coupled with excellent photography and special effects and permeated with some of the best action sequences I've witnessed in a modern film. It's also one of the best science fiction movies I've seen in quite a long time, rivaling things like DISTRICT 9 in scope and execution.

Unfortunately, the movie had a budget of around $50million and only managed to make $36million in revenues. This is particularly sad since I would have loved to have seen director Pete Travis, writer Alex Garland, and Urban & Thirlby return with a sequel. Alas, it's not likely to happen, which is rather a sad judgment on the film-going public.

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